Report: Merck management acted responsibly in Vioxx marketing
Posted 9/6/2006 6:20 PM ET
By Theresa Agovino, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Merck's board of directors said Wednesday that a 20-month investigation funded by the pharmaceutical company found senior management acted responsibly in its development and marketing of its pain reliever Vioxx, now off the market.
The 1,700-page report, which cost $21 million, contained some minor criticisms of employee actions but concluded that "management acted with integrity and had legitimate reasons for making the decisions that it made, in light of the knowledge available at the time."
The report criticized some of Merck's marketing, public relations and response to doctors who raised concerns about Vioxx's safety.
In a statement, Merck said the report confirms the company's position that it never knowingly put patients at risk. It said it had already addressed some of the report's concerns and is carefully considering other criticism to determine appropriate action. The statement wasn't specific about its criticism or action.
Merck pulled Vioxx off the market two years ago after a study found it doubled patients' risk of heart attacks and strokes. The company now faces more than 14,200 lawsuits that allege Merck knew Vioxx's risks and recklessly sold it to the public. Merck has won four lawsuits and lost four.
Merck's board established a special committee of six outside directors to conduct an investigation of the allegations after the drug was withdrawn. It hired John Martin, a former federal judge, of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to investigate. Mark Goodman, a partner who worked on the investigation, said no members of the team were directly asked it they had any conflicts of interest with Merck but their professional ethics would require them to raise such issues.
Martin acknowledged that some cynics might consider the report a whitewash because of its favorable conclusions, but pointed to its heft as evidence of independence. He also said the special committee would not have hesitated to take action against the company if it believed there had been misconduct.
This was "not a slipshod inquiry that simply accepted at face value the statements of Merck's scientists that they believed that Vioxx was a safe drug," said Martin. More than 150 witnesses were interviewed, including outside scientists who disagreed with some of Merck's conclusions, he said.
Martin said Merck acted appropriately and the Vioxx situation was unavoidable.
Plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier called the report "an absurd, expensive PR (public relations) stunt" and wondered if anyone would consider "a jury independent if I paid them $21 million." He said it was an attempt to influence Wall Street analysts and potential jury members.
Lanier doubted the report would ever be used in a trial despite finding some improper conduct among Merck employees because rules of evidence would mean the entire document with its positive conclusion would have to be included.
Ted Mayer, who heads Merck's outside trial team, declined to speculate on whether lawyers would try to use the report at trial, even though its conclusions mirror the company defense.
Note also how "Big Pharma" is the biggest target of litigation. And why? Sutton's law, perhaps?
LAWSUITS PLAGUE INDUSTRY
Drug makers faced the most product liability
lawsuits last year of any industry.
Source: Thomson West